Recently, I was sharing with some students a couple of books that really affected me. Somehow in my mind, this led me to thinking about a recent article I had read about the Counting Crows’ 1994 album, August and Everything After. So, I’ve decided to write a brief introduction to five albums that changed my life.
#5 – “Weird Al” Yankovic’s TV Album (Released 1995; Purchased 1996)
I know this one may seem strange, but this album legitimately changed my life. It was one of the first two CDs I ever bought, and it cemented my admiration for Weird Al. Combining classic songs with hilarious TV concepts taught me the value of television: there isn’t any really. I don’t know if that Al’s goal, but the momentary nature of the shows me ridiculed showed me at the tender age of 12 that television isn’t as important as I thought it was at that age. Oddly enough, this album got me outside. I’d take this CD and listen to it as I walked around my parents’ property. While I’ll always appreciate Al’s irreverence for all things pop culture, this album had a much deeper impact on me than just a simple joke.
#4 – The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse (Released 1996; Purchased 1996)
This follow up album was the second CD I ever purchased (this and The TV Album were purchased at the same time, so it’s hard to tell which actually came first). I initially bought it for one simple reason: my dad recommended it to me. It was the first time I remember him suggesting music for me to listen to, so I bought it without thinking twice. Turns out, my dad was right. To this day, there is still something hauntingly beautiful about the record. Jakob Dylan’s lyrics feel like a summation of all things 90s: broken people singing beautiful music about a broken but beautiful world. While I am sure people connect differently, emotionally speaking, to different music, this was another first for me: music that moved my heart outside of the church. This album became a regular throughout my life, and as it turns out, the lives of many of my friends. It is abstract in content all while feeling so incredibly concrete in emotions. The Wallflowers changed how I looked at music, and how I thought about the spiritual side of music making in general. “Josephine” stills makes my eyes watery, some 17 years later. I’ve purchased three copies of this over the years, as my old copies have either worn out or been “borrowed” by friends.
#3 – Rend Collective Experiment’s Campfire (Released 2013; Purchased 2013)
While still very new in the grand scheme of things, this wonderful little record has already made a huge impact on me. Not only has it reinvigorated my praise life, but it stoked so many neat thoughts and conversations. Rend Collective has a philosophy about praise music that is unlike anything I have ever encountered before, which is both refreshing and challenging. They breathe new life into old hymns without becoming another cliché. They invoke such powerful images with songs like “You Bled” and “The Cost” that I am overwhelmed at times just listening to these people love God through their art. It’s a powerful experience. Other individual songs have struck me like this before, but never an entire album (much less a band’s worldview). This is the only album I’ve ever bought digitally that I also wanted to own a physical copy of as well. It’s that good.
#2 – Mindy Smith’s One Moment More (Released 2004; Purchased 2005)
The only female singer to ever really capture my affection, Mindy Smith’s music has some of the hauntingly beautiful sounds that I loved about the Wallflowers, but she tends to focus more on the beauty side of things. Initially drawn in by her cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” tracks like “Come to Jesus” and “Fighting For It All” are utterly enrapturing. She is Odysseus’ siren come to life, only rather than leading you to your doom, she points you firmly towards the shore, reminding you to never let a moment escape like a wasted breath. I know it’s chauvinistic, but she was the first woman singer whom I ever loved. I recommended her music to everyone, and subjected my passengers to her CD on repeat. Smith highlighted the inconsistencies in my own perspective, in a number of ways, and did so in such a gentle way that I all I could ever do was nod and say, “you’re right.” I can’t say there are a lot of albums I’ve ever spoken to before (or since) as if they were alive. But that’s what it felt like listening to her; it was as if she was in the room with me.
#1 – The Counting Crows’ Hard Candy (Released 2002; Purchased 2003)
If I had to do a top five favorite albums, all of them would be Crows’ albums. August and Everything After is my most cherished of their work, but it didn’t change my life. Hard Candy on the other hand, had a profound impact. On certain Sundays in November, when the weather bothers me, I can put this CD on and instantly be transported to a time and place where things worked differently. This was the album my friend James introduced me to; the album that led me to my first Counting Crows concert; the album that walked me through my first real heartache. It didn’t just soothe me at a time when things could be up one second, and down the next; Hard Candy reminded me that there was something more. I discovered this CD in the Rockies, where I met Jesus for the first time as more than the guy who paid for my sins. This album always reminds me that I have a friend in Jesus. I guess maybe some hymns should have that effect, but they don’t. “Butterfly in Reverse” and “Up All Night” instantly bring Scripture to mind that I learned while studying at Ravencrest. I know that it sounds so odd. Still, somehow, this album brought me closer to God than any old time spiritual ever did.